Threat in MMOs is a strange construct. It’s supposed to mimic the way in which a monster decides which of the adventuring party to attack, instead of running away like a sensible creature or just biting people’s heads off. In WoW-like games, the tank usually uses lots of high threat moves on a mob and as long as they stay highest on the threat list, the monster won’t hit at anyone else.
So the object of threat, if you are a tank, is to stay above the rest of your group on as many mobs as possible. If you are not a tank, then your goal is to keep your threat low while doing as much damage/ healing as possible.
Apparently WoW tanks have been slacking off, because one of the developer comments recently was:
On threat, one of the changes we’re considering trying out ((in Cataclysm)) is to have threat decay pretty rapidly. The idea is that a tank should never be able to get so far ahead on threat that they can AFK for the rest of the fight. It might sound like a nerf, but really the intent is to make sure that the tank’s job is never done — that what you do will remain important.
I don’t actually know who these tanks were who put up such high initial threat and then went off for a smoke, but I bet they were paladins. So the answer clearly is just to nerf paladins, which they are doing anyway.
When I’m tanking on my warrior, I never just slack off or AFK for half a fight. There are times when I want to use my most perfect, intense high threat rotations (typically a tank and spank type of fight where the dps will also be putting out their max rotations) but there are also times when I need to be able to keep threat with minimal effort. For example, if I’m dragging a mob around the room and also dodging fire on the floor, I have a lot of buttons to press and I don’t have the concentration to keep a max threat rotation up at the same time.
So here is why threat decay is a bad idea in WoW:
1. It assumes that both tanks and dps/ healers are always generating threat at similar rates. All it takes is one fight where the tank has a lot of things to do but dps can stand still and nuke, and suddenly they’re being asked to stand around and do nothing because of the lower threat cap (caused because it’s harder for the tank to prevent threat decay while moving).
2. It vastly favours tanks who have better ranged tanking, easier rotations, or other class abilities which make them better able to keep up a max threat cycle whilst doing other things. Or rather, yes I was proud of being able to tank Malygos on my warrior when I know a lot of other raids were insisting on paladins for exactly this reason (need to be able to keep threat high while moving dragon around) but there’s a limit in how far I want to feel punished for having a more complex rotation or less inbuilt threat.
3. Fighting the rest of the group isn’t really what makes tanking fun. It would be better if there was some reward for higher threat (maybe it effectively debuffs the mob in some scaling way). I bet dps would be ticked off if a mob healed so much during combat that they never really made a dent in it.
4. It’s just not necessary. Nerf paladin threat, and call it fixed.
5. Tank threat has never really been normalised in WoW. It didn’t matter which tank did the most threat per se, as long as all of them were able to stay ahead of the top dps (more or less). Burst threat and up-front threat did make a difference and probably should have been more normalised than it ever was. But if threat decay is going into the game, then threat needs to be as equalised as dps is among dps classes.
It isn’t an impossible idea in general. I’m sure other games have used variants on threat decay to keep the game interesting. But if it goes live, then dps threat needs to decay also. There needs to be times in a fight where a clever tank can realise that dps will not be on full blast and they could take advantage of that to lower the threat cap temporarily.
I also agree that threat has long lost its potency as a game mechanic. Instead of being forced to work with dps players to make sure the mob was attacking the right person, we feel as though we are working against them. If they are ever asked to hold their fire, the amount of whining or begging for a better tank has to be heard to be believed.
I wonder perhaps if tank decay is a polite way for GC to say that actually they want the dps classes to learn some patience and to not always have threat on easy mode. Not a bad goal in itself. But I don’t want to be the one who gets blamed all the time for slacking every single time it happens. I also prefer tanking to be a test of smartness and reaction and situational awareness, not just of how well you can hammer your max threat rotation while jumping through hoops. We aren’t dps monkeys, after all.